COVID-19 crisis devastates Scotland’s visitor attractions

  • New figures show visitor numbers slumped 34 million in 2020, a fall of 63.2%
  • Continued restrictions mean many attractions cannot reopen fully, a survey reveals
  • Staycationers urged to support Scotland’s visitor attractions this summer

New figures have revealed the full impact of the COVID-19 crisis on Scotland’s visitor attractions.

Overall visitor numbers slumped by almost 34 million in 2020, a fall of 63.2%, with 153 sites closed for the full 12 months, according to data from the Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism at Glasgow Caledonian University.

Edinburgh Castle – Scotland’s busiest paid-for attraction in 2019 – saw visitor numbers drop by 87.2% with figures for Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, in Glasgow, and the National Museum of Scotland falling 85.8% and 79.9% respectively.

Data from the Moffat Centre’s Scottish Visitor Attraction Monitor 2020 shows attractions with large outdoor areas outperformed museums/art galleries and castles.

Edinburgh Zoo was Scotland’s busiest paid-for site last year, attracting 292,631 visitors, a drop of 46.4% on the previous 12 months. Culloden Visitor Centre attracted 182,496 visitors as it recorded battlefield-only visits for the first time and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh was the most popular free site with 452,479 visits.

The Scottish Visitor Attraction Monitor shows the overall number of visits dropped from 53,722,691 in 2019 to 19,785,282, across 638 sites.

Professor John Lennon, Director of the Moffat Centre at GCU, said: “The impact of COVID-19 was felt across all aspects of the Scottish visitor attractions sector as travel was restricted, the international market collapsed and the wider economy was impacted.

“Attractions are an essential element of the Scottish visitor experience. With international tourism unlikely to return until well into 2022, domestic visitors will provide the sole source of income. Their custom will be vital going forward.”

Two-thirds of attractions due to reopen this week expect to operate with either reduced hours, some facilities closed, or at weekends-only, to keep costs down, according to a survey of operators, carried out by the Moffat Centre in partnership with The Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA).

The survey, conducted in April, revealed that one in eight sites will remain closed for all of 2021 without a further easing of coronavirus restrictions.

Industry leaders are now warning many smaller attractions are at risk of closing for good without ongoing financial support from the UK and Scottish Governments.

Gordon Morrison, ASVA Chief Executive, said:“​Whilst the majority of attractions are reopening from this week onward, it’s extremely concerning that so many sites feel it’s not viable for them to open fully, or even at all this year, due to continuing restrictions.

“Our last survey in March revealed the continuation of 2m physical distancing means 54% of attractions are either forced to remain closed or will lose money when they do reopen. Those findings, combined with our April survey, highlight just how vulnerable the attractions sector is and how incredibly challenging its economic recovery will be.

“Now more than ever, this important sector of our country’s £11bn tourism industry not only needs continued government support to survive and thrive but also needs the public to get behind it.

“Visitors can expect the warmest of welcomes and be assured that the highest standards of safety protocols – praised by the Scottish Government as exemplary – have been put in place across the sector for their benefit.  And with sites predicted to be at least 30% less busy this year due to the fact that there will be significantly fewer international visitors, those from Scotland and the rest of the UK can take advantage of a rare opportunity to experience our world-class attractions and all that they offer in a uniquely enjoyable, memorable way.”